The Bigger Picture: How a Fund Is Tackling Interrelated Environmental Threats

the Madison river, near yellowstone. photo: Ric Schafer/shutterstock

the Madison river, near yellowstone. photo: Ric Schafer/shutterstock

Just as city planning can’t happen these days without accounting for the wide-ranging impacts of climate change, neither can wildlife and habitat conservation. 

We’ve covered the handful of foundations that are highly active in building resilience (although there are not enough), mainly in cities or human populations confronting climate change and other interconnected threats. On the conservation side, funders like the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation have also been working to make readiness for climate change a bigger component in biodiversity strategies. 


One effort that’s been running since 2011 is the WCS Climate Adaptation Fund, a grantmaking initiative run by the Wildlife Conservation Society, and funded by DDCF. So far, the fund has given more than $14 million to 78 adaptation projects across 35 states. There’s a current live RFP for 2018 grants, which will distribute $2.5 million for projects ranging from $50,000 to $250,000 each. 

To date, it’s been focused on management projects happening on the ground that take into account the impacts of climate change, which means looking at long-term outcomes and planning for change, instead of, say, protecting a particular species or trying to keep certain historical conditions in place. 

This can be a real challenge for conservation NGOs and the funders that back them. Many of these groups have spent decades working to understand and maintain specific habitats or wildlife species, and now have to cope with sweeping changes that are unfolding or looming. With climate impacts like drought, floods, fires, and rising sea levels, conservation strategies often need to be entirely reevaluated.

One example of a Climate Adaptation Fund grantee taking on this challenge is the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, which convened researchers and environmental experts to inform their work in light of climate change. The group has been restoring headwater streams feeding the riparian habitat in Madison Valley, Montana, to account for loss of snowpack and higher temperatures. Other winning projects include rebuilding coastal marshes in Louisiana to be more resilient, and creating new habitat that will support pollinators in California’s Central Valley. 

Since it began, the program has added a priority of wildlife adaptation in and around urban areas. And starting in 2018, the fund added a new project category called “joint mitigation and adaptation projects” for work that achieves conservation wins in the face of climate change, while also mitigating climate change. An example of such a project would be a watershed restoration that is resilient to future change, while increasing carbon uptake. Other funders like Packard, and members of the Climate and Land Use Alliance have also prioritized land conservation as a tool to fight climate change, not just endure it. 

The nice thing about the Climate Adaptation Fund, and especially this new joint mitigation and adaptation priority, is that it signals a merging of environmental priorities that is so important right now. More green groups and the funders who support them are embracing the idea that conservation, fighting climate change, and living with climate change are really just different angles of the same problem, and must be interwoven in any coherent environmental strategy. 

There was a time when mitigation, adaptation and conservation were viewed distinctly, even sometimes at odds with each other, and that’s still somewhat the case. But philanthropy can play a big part in the shift away from that thinking through supporting collaboration and convenings, and grantmaking programs. 

As Scott Christensen, director of conservation for the Greater Yellowstone Coalition says in a video about their work, “I feel like the Climate Adaptation Fund is an incredible catalyst for where I hope we’re all going as a movement in making climate change just a part of our work.”

You can check out more about the current RFP, read guidelines, and see more past winners here